Saturday, June 21, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: 30,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (2007)

Six features deep into our Abyss-mal Cinema coverage and we really haven’t yet encountered anything cinematically soul crushing.  Sure, I (re)endured THE EVIL BELOW (1989) and Tom suffered through SECTOR 7 (2011), but I don’t think either of them made us question our decision to do this.  It takes a special breed of film to do that. Fittingly, the films that drive us insane come from a place called The Asylum. To quote Carlito Brigante, “Here comes the pain!”

When we kicked off this series, the one film I mentioned that seemed to set this underwater genre afloat was Disney’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954).  Their adaption of Jules Verne’s fantasy tale has become the blueprint for most films in this genre and is still a classic today.  At the time of its release, it was the second most popular film at the US box office with total revenues exceeding $28 million dollars.  Keep in mind this was when the average ticket price was 45 cents. In 2014’s dollars, this total would be just shy of $500 million dollars.  So, in Hollywood terms, a total flop!  I kid, I kid. Surprisingly, a large scale remake has never been attempted by Hollywood (French director Christophe Gans toiled on the unmade, big budget NEMO for years).  As a result, this has allowed the stragglers to jump onboard.  With the last live action versions being two made-for-television movies appearing in 1997, The Asylum felt it was safe enough to sink their claws into it by throwing an extra 10,000 leagues onto the title.  Sadly, this is the only genius thing they did with their version.

Opening with some gorgeous underwater stock footage, 30,000 LEAGUES gets right down to business as the submarine USS Scotia is cruising the deep ocean when they suddenly catch something huge on their radar. They are attacked by mechanical squid and sent twirling to the bottom of the ocean floor.  Naturally, the rescue is a job for only one man.  James Cameron!  Uh, I mean, Lorenzo Lamas!  Lamas is Lt. Michael Arronax (hey, someone read the book even if they spelled the name wrong), who runs the Aquanaut 3 dive vessel with his crew, Sustin (Kim Little) and Ramirez (Emilio Roso). They are contacted by the captain of the USS Abraham Lincoln and told to dock with them to prepare for a rescue mission to save the stranded 160 seamen.  Arronax is instrumental because he has developed something called the Oxygenator, a device that turns “water molecules into breathable air.”  Trouble arrives when Arronax is told his commanding officer will be Lt. Commander Lucille Conciel (Natalie Stone).  Why is this bad news? Because she is his ex-wife.  Oh, the drama!  By the way, the character of Conciel (spelled Conseil in the book) was originally the assistant character played by Peter Lorre in the 1954 version.  Let that sink in for a second.


After getting their squabbles out of the way, the team – including fifth member and Conciel’s right hand man Blackwell (Damien Puckler) – head down to the incapacitated sub, but start losing their air pressure.  Naturally, it is all Conciel’s fault as she ordered them not to attach certain things she deemed unnecessary. Hell, she felt SCUBA gear at 15,000 feet below wasn’t needed to bring along.  Yes, really. Anyway, much like your humble reviewer, these folks end up passing out due to lack of oxygen to the brain. When Arronax wakes up, he is stunned to find himself onboard a huge underwater vessel.  Cue CGI pull back through the window shot.  After the crew is reunited, they are introduced to Captain Nemo (Sean Lawlor).  You can tell he is a captain because he has Navy insignias all over his sweater.  Oddly, he feels only worth enough to give himself 2 stars, making himself a Rear Admiral.  Wait, why would he even be wearing those?  Nemo explains that they are all his guests on the Nautilus, his billion dollar submarine that houses tens of thousands.  This is conveyed by using the same hallway set over and over.  Ever the kind host, he invites them to dinner (we don’t get the famous dinner scene) and has repaired the Aquanaut 3 to send them on their way to rescue the people.  Or so they think.  Turns out Nemo is a bit bent on the world topside and figures he can nuke it with the missiles he has stolen off the sub.  A ruthless white billionaire who wants the world molded to his liking?  What is this fantasy that would never happen in the real world?  Why is he so driven?  Well, seems he has just discovered Atlantis and wants the Oxygenator to revive the submerged city.  “Down here you can live for 200 years,” he crows.  Oddly, no one questions that.  Of course, our boy Lorenzo ain’t gonna stand for this and decides he and his crew will sink Nemo’s plans.


Wow.  No, I’m sorry, wooooooooooooow. Words really can’t do justice to how bad this film is.  Even by the very low standards of The Asylum, this is some rough stuff.  With the end credits rolling at the 80 minute mark, this flick feels like it goes on for days.  Now I know those motorcycle tanks and tanning beds aren't going to fuel themselves, but, goddamn, this is some rough stuff from the Renegade Snake Eater.  How bad is this flick?  So bad that I suspect our buddy Jon Stone (aka Lorenzo Lamas’ biggest fan) would give it a pass.  On the technical side, you’d have to say this is the also the lowest Lamas has gone in his career.  Shot on very flat digital video, the film comes across cheap on nearly every level from the sound recording to the same cheap spaceship set hallway used over and over and over.  It says something when their lackluster CGI is one of the better aspects of the film.  Nothing sums this cheapness up better than director Gabriel Bologna in the behind-the-scenes video talking about how they got to shoot in a water tank and it cuts to a shot of the crew literally filming something in a pool in someone’s backyard.


Now I do not begrudge filmmakers working with limited resources.  But at least try, damn it! Their brainwashing machine is a pair of goggles with a blinking light strip attached. Then there is the continuity that shows this is total D.I.C. (Do I Care?) filmmaking. No joke, during a scene where Lamas and his crew escape to their mini-sub, one of Nemo’s men shoots a traitor. They clearly show the bullets being fired into the guy and he falls down.  In the very next shot, Lamas runs into the bridge of the Aquanaut and his arm is not only bleeding but has a bandage around it.  Yes, they were too cheap to actually show him get shot and treat his wound.  Instead, they cover it with Sustin asking, “What happened to your arm?” That is what kids do when they shoot home movies and the next day their friend shows up with a different outfit on.  My personal favorite is when Lamas dives outside of sub to rescue his wife and emerges minutes later completely dry.  Then there is a bit where Sustain is snagged by a robot squid in the ocean through an open hatch.  Um, wouldn’t the ship flood? Of course, deep down the folks at The Asylum could care less as this is cynical moviemaking at its best/worst.  If they make a shitty movie, great!  Then they can say, “Haha, laugh at our shitty movie.”  Their sole purpose for a title like this is to trick some unsuspecting parent at the Walmart $5 DVD bin.  Well, those folks and idiots who openly choose to review it for their blog. You got me, The Asylum, well played.

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